We are surrounded by signs. They are on stores, on buildings, on cars, on walls, and on the floor. Entire cars, buses and trucks can be wrapped and converted into mobile signs. They can identify buildings, objects and people, attract customers, convey safety information, or provide directional information. Inside … outside, signs play a very important function in our daily lives.

“Signs are everywhere but they also are ‘ubiquitous yet unknown'” – Karin Eaton, Executive Director of the Sign Association of Canada.

“Signs are everywhere but, as it has been said in the industry, they are also ‘ubiquitous yet unknown’,” says Karin Eaton, Executive Director of the Sign Association of Canada. “Despite being everywhere, very few people think about what goes into sign making. There are so many elements – architecture and design, engineering, manufacturing and installation. There is no one way to get into the sign industry, but often you are born into a sign family, stumble upon it through marriage, or you learn graphic design in school, start working in a sign shop and then move onto other areas.”

Hiring Young Talent and Reskilling Workers

In an evolving industry, there is a desire to attract young talent as well as reskilling people who are interested in career changes.

“Education has always been one of the key strategic areas of importance for us,” adds Eaton. “One of the ironies of the pandemic is that elearning and new technologies, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, have become more prevalent and accepted.”

Carl Weger, President and CEO of Sleek Signs and past President of the Sign Association of Canada notes that a lot of the education that is done in the industry is on-the-job training and some of it is manufacturer-based.

Creating the Graphics Installation Technician Program

Work Based Learning Consortium (WBLC) is developing a selection and learning program for the Graphics Installation Technician with the Sign Association of Canada. Graphic Installers often are involved in the application of wraps to cars and buses. Working with industry experts, WBLC has constructed a blended elearning program that also includes instructor-led coaching on hands-on skills as well as a train the technical trainer element. WBLC will screen and assess job candidates, will develop and deliver training for the new hires or employees that could benefit from upskilling, and is developing a certification program to certify all of the graduates.

The Graphics Installation Technician program has several elements:

  • Graphic signage – trainees need to be knowledgeable about the most important types of signs and graphic installations.
  • Work Documents – they have to be able to read and interpret all these different work documents.
  • Math – important to have math skills for measurement, alignment, proportions.
  • Programs – trainees need to be knowledgeable about the types of machines and programs used in graphical installations. This element teaches what these different programs can do.
  • Programs and Machines – understand the roles of machines such as a graphic plotter and flatbed CNC machines.
  • Materials and installation surfaces – Understanding the different materials, such as vinyl that goes into a graphic install.
  • Learning the characteristics of materials, read the manufacturer product, understand the surface and then choose the materials.
  • And, demonstrating efficient use of measurement and tools used in that job.
  • Participants will be asked to do a series of five projects – three installs and two removals.

The Graphics Technician Installation Technician program is funded by Future Skills Centre, a pan-Canadian initiative dedicated to helping Canadians gain the skills needed to thrive in a changing labour market. This is the first initiative with the Sign Association of Canada and is being undertaken to test and confirm their industry’s interest in specific training programs and national certification.

The Value of Certification

“The certification element has a number of advantages. It establishes a baseline of quality, validates the career choice for employees, increases interest from potential applicants to the sector and, over time, increases the capability of company employees, while also increasing retention rates,” says Rod Jones, Managing Director of WBLC. “The certification provides an independent, valid and reliable means of affirming that the trainee has actually acquired the competency, knowledge and skills that they need to do the work. This is beneficial both for the trainee and the industry as a whole.”

A National Program

“This program should result in producing a person with a broader set of skills and accreditation, which should be appealing to many in this industry” – Carl Weger, President and CEO of Sleek Signs and past President of the Sign Association of Canada

The program will begin training people in the late spring and summer 2023 with at least nine companies, located across Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, involved in the program launch.

“As a national association, we felt it was really important to have national representation in this pilot,” says Eaton. “It was really important for us to select companies across Canada of different sizes, so that we have a better understanding whether you are a big company or small, more remote or in a crowded urban setting, we discover the effectiveness of the program. This is really exciting. My hope is that it will lead to elearning in other areas, too, down the road.

Rod Jones of the WBLC says he and his team also are enjoying working on this initiative.

“We’re very pleased to be working with the Sign Association of Canada on our first pan-Canadian initiative,” adds Jones. “Together, we can help train new or upskill employees for Sign Association of Canada member companies. We are using the same, proven methodologies that we’ve established with other industries, but it’s rewarding to teach different technical knowledge and skills to a new group of people.”

Carl Weger adds that there are likely more than 10,000 organizations nationwide, in almost every large and small community across the country.

“This program should result in producing a person with a broader set of skills and accreditation, which should be appealing to many in this industry,” adds Weger.